Birth Control Pills May Raise Concerns for Certain Eye Diseases

December 18, 2013 Updated: April 24, 2016

Women who use oral contraceptives for several years or longer may want to consider having their eyes checked regularly, as new research suggests that the pills may double their lifetime risk of developing glaucoma.

Researchers have cautioned that their findings should not discourage women from using oral contraceptives, since the risk of glaucoma for the average adult over the age of 40 remains fairly low. However, they did say that doctors should be aware of a link, and that women who are using long-term birth control pills, should keep tabs on their long-term eye health, especially if they have a family history of eye problems, such as glaucoma, a degenerative eye disease that can cause blindness if left untreated.

Researchers still haven’t found a cause for why birth control pills can cause eye problems, but cells in the optic nerve contain estrogen receptors that are believed to play a role in protecting the eyes from age-related decline, and birth control pills may interfere in that process by depressing the estrogen levels.

Researchers have previously studied and found that women who enter menopause early in life have an elevated risk of glaucoma. According to a yaz attorney, this can also be affected by taking medications to block estrogen, like drugs used to treat breast cancer.

Glaucoma can be a painful disease, and affects between two and three million Americans, most people in their elderly stage of life. The most common form of the condition, called open angle glaucoma, is caused by the gradual clogging of the drainage canals in the eye, leading to a buildup of pressure inside.

The new study looked at information on 3,406 women over the age of 40 who, for many years, took part in the ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, carried out by the CDC. Women who reported having used birth control pills of any kinds for three or more years had a 5 percent risk of developing glaucoma, compared to the risk of about 2.5 percent in the general population.

Another study, published two years ago in the journal Eye, looked at data on over 80,000 women who were followed for nearly three decades as part of a Nurses’ Health Study. Women who used birth control pills at any point in their lives did not have an elevated risk of glaucoma, but those who specifically had used them for five or more years did experience a modestly elevated risk of the disease.